Every farmer counts is Safety Week theme

Cheryl Skjolaas
Agricultural safety and health is more than job to Cheryl Skjolaas, Ag Safety and Health Specialist for UW Extension. "It is a part of my life as my family and friends are involved farming," she said.

The sound of a siren blasting its warning down a country road puts us all on alert that something has happened. I remember those sirens for fires, traffic crashes, and unfortunately, for farm injuries. The people involved in these farm accidents where someone’s family member, friends, or neighbors.

“Every Farmer Counts” is the theme for National Farm Safety Week, September 20-26, 2020. While the theme focuses on a “farmer” in Wisconsin agriculture everyone (family members, employees) associated with Wisconsin agricultural industry “counts.” Besides an awareness to farm safety during this national week, it is a time to take action plan a safe harvest season.

Over my 30 years as a farm safety specialist, I have reviewed hundreds of injuries to members of the Wisconsin farm community. I have grieved with family and friends as they’ve mourned losses of loved ones, discussed the “how’s and why’s” of injuries and illnesses with emergency responders and medical professionals, and worked with individuals with disabilities that wanted to keep on farming. Agricultural safety and health is more than job to me, it is a part of my life as my family and friends are involved farming.

A common question that I get asked is “are we doing better?” Yes, farms and farm machinery are safer than they were 30 years ago. The current rate of workplace fatalities in farming as documented by the National Safety Council, is 22.8 per 100,000 workers – it was 42 per 100,000 in 1990 – so we have seen a 46% reduction in the per capita death rate during that 30-year time period. This did not happen without huge effort and specific, positive, measurable action and attention.

During National Farm Safety week, do more than “be aware” of the dangers but to take action to improve safety and health on your farm for everyone involved.

Take action to improve safety, health

During National Farm Safety week, my one request would be to do more than “be aware” of the dangers but to take action to improve safety and health on your farm for everyone involved. Here’s a few action items to consider:

1. Repair at least one hazard. Rewire an electrical plug to prevent an electrical shock. Replace that broken power take-off shield that is cracked and breaking apart that increases your risk of an entanglement. Organize the shop or utility room to dispose of unused chemicals containers without labels and prevent accidental chemical exposure. Get rid of that old ladder that has a cracked or missing rung to prevent a fall. Fix the hinge on the gate in the barn that could lead to an injury to an animal or a worker. Put the cover back on the manure reception or leachate pit so no one can fall inside. While these items may seem like small actions, they can cause injuries and medical costs add up quickly. Check out and clean personal protective equipment or PPE so it’s ready for use and provides maximum protection.

2. Prepare machinery and vehicles ready for road travel. Today’s farming requires a lot more time on public roads with tractors, self-propelled harvesters and combines, towed implements like wagons, carts and tankers. Additionally, trucks and truck tractors and trailers or tankers are used during harvest season. Developing daily checklists for safety inspections helps to ensure that vehicles are ready for road travel. Especially, important is the lighting and marking for implements of husbandry. There will be more time spent on the road during low-light or hours of darkness – lighting and marking helps motorist see you sooner and have time to slow down or stop.

3. Turn the power off and check that residual energy is out of the machine prior to repair. If there’s no power, it’s hard for a machine to entangle or entrap a person. Use safety features to block-up combine heads, skid steer arms, engine compartment doors. In general industry lock-out/tagout (LOTO) would be used on machinery. Lockout by taking the key or blocking the starter. Tagout by leaving a note that the machine is being repaired. The child playing on the tractor, turning on the power and entangling an adult repairing a machine has happened more than once in my career. Take a few extra seconds and turn the power off!

4. Make safety a priority and part of your daily work practices will improve safety for generations to come. Train on good safety practices, especially with new or young employees. It is easy to get caught in “getting the work done” situations that lead to fatigue, taking shortcuts on safety and ending in injury or illness. Everyone will benefit from good nutrition, rest breaks and sleep to reduce harvest time stress.

Cheryl Skjolaas

Cheryl A. Skjolaas is the Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist for the Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at UW Madison/Division of Extension

UW Extension